Indonesia elects working-class metalhead president

Joko Widodo has become the president of Indonesia after winning 53.13 percent of the vote in the country’s 2014 presidential election. He will take office Oct. 20. What separates Widodo from other politicians is his willingness to venture into the streets to speak with the people, including the poor, who elected him. As a metal fan (“metalhead”), he is also historically the first known representative of the increasingly diverse heavy metal subculture to take political office.

Widodo has publically declared his love for a number of metal bands, including Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Lamb of God (whose songs have often criticized American foreign policy and international relations), and Napalm Death (whose music has always been pro-labor, and who have played benefit concerts for striking workers). The president-elect has also attended metal shows and once received an autographed bass guitar from Metallica’s Rob Trujillo.

Many feel that Widodo could become an exemplar of the rapidly closing gap between culture and politics, especially in the case of the heavy metal subculture, which is increasingly outspoken about world issues and gaining sociopolitical relevance.

Lamb of God vocalist Randy Blythe cheered Widodo’s election, remarking, “Incredibly, the new President of Indonesia is a metalhead. Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, the governor of Jakarta and former furniture salesman who was born into poverty, has won the election. I do not know much about Indonesian politics, but from what I can tell, Widodo seems to be a man of the people. A metalhead president – who would have thought? I mean, this is the only president in the world with whom you can sit down and argue about which Slayer record is best.”

And there is evidence to suggest that Widodo is, indeed, a man of the people, as he is the first president in the history of the country who did not come from the political or military elite, according to Time magazine. The article noted, “Unlike many established figures who dominate the political arena, the 53 year-old Jokowi came from a humble provincial background.” After a career in furniture sales, “he started in politics as mayor of his hometown less than a decade ago – and this rapid rise, along with the level of electoral enthusiasm and volunteerism his candidacy has generated, has invited comparisons to U.S. President Obama.”

The BBC added that Widodo ran on a platform of “a decisive break with Indonesia’s authoritarian past and better social welfare for the poor,” and he “had the backing of urban and rural youth.”

Widodo, meanwhile, explained his frequent forays into various neighborhoods to converse with people. He said, “The people say it’s ‘street democracy’ because I go out to them. I explain my positions and programs, and they can also give me ideas about programs.” He also assures the residents that he will not support turning their land over to business tycoons and corporate developers, and to this end, he visits and talks with city officials on an almost daily basis.

And these forays do not preclude showing up at metal shows and speaking to the people there – many of whom are the very aforementioned youth and young adults who made up his electorate. He attended Metallica’s August 2013 concert, and commented after the show, “I am happy and satisfied with the concert. No one got out of control last night. We showed them that Jakarta citizens are all dignified. We could rock the night away in an orderly fashion.”

Photo: Widodo (wearing red) poses with fellow concertgoers in Jakarta, November 2013. AP



Blake Skylar
Blake Skylar

Blake is a writer and production manager, responsible for the daily assembly of the People's World home page. He has earned awards from the IWPA and ILCA, and his articles have appeared in publications such as Workday Minnesota, EcoWatch, and Earth First News. He has covered issues including the BP oil spill in New Orleans and the 2015 U.N. Climate Conference in Paris.

He lives in Pennsylvania with his girlfriend and their cats. He enjoys wine, books, music, and nature. In his spare time, he reviews music, creates artwork, and is working on several books and digital comics.